While walking through Sultanahment on my way to see Omer, my buddy who worked in the hostel I stayed in last fall, and whom I ran into by circumstance when walking past a new hostel he’s working in this past spring, I had an odd conversation about gerunds.
I was walking down the main touristy road behind Hagia Sophia, and of the many guys standing outside of their cafes trying to get customers inside, one guy roped me into a conversation. Since I haven’t started working yet, I have nothing to do with my time. And since I have no money, it’s not like I’m going to get roped into spending a lot of cash on a low quality meal, so I figured there’s nothing stopping me from having a small chat.
My friend, I have one thing to say to you. You have very nice sunglasses. I let him wear them for the duration of our conversation, which was a mistake, because I had to get my glasses back before I could vamoose. My friend, where in the United States are you from? Michigan. Michigan? Why are you from Michigan and not from Boston or Miami? A bit at a loss, I mutter something about life circumstances and whatnot. I would ask your father one question, my friend. I would ask him why you are from Michigan and not a different place.
The conversation goes a bit further, the usual tourist/merchant small talk to get me to go in his shop, and he tries to get me to eat there. No, no, I respond, I already ate lunch.
But my friend, here you can have a small snack and a drink.
No, I don’t need anything more, I laugh. Really, I’m all set.
My friend. Life is too short to not spend money. Why are you not spending money?
Well, I’m not here on holiday, I reply, I don’t have too much money to spend.
You need work? Why not work here? You can work here.
No, I have a job, I am an English teacher.
You are English teacher? I am also teacher.
Really? At which school?
I teach workers here. Like him (points), manager. I teach him, and he also teaches other workers. He is also teacher. But he doesn’t know gerunds! My friend, if you are English teacher, you can tell me. What is gerund? (pronounced yerund.)
Oh, sure. A gerund is a verb that functions as a noun.
No, my friend. Gerund is not verb.
No, I know. It’s when it becomes a noun, by adding -ing to the end of it.
But gerund can be subject!
Sure, as in “swimming is fun.”
My friend, the sentence: “I am doing.” What is the subject?
(Disregarding how ridiculous his sample sentence is, I comply) “I” is the subject.
Then what is the gerund?
And what about the am doing?
It is the verb am, and the gerund doing.
At this point the conversation got very odd. He began speaking about tenses, and in the future, and all sorts of nonsense, all in very broken English that was very hard to understand. He started to tell me that I needed to go back to the States for another year of university, learn what a gerund is, and then could I come back to Istanbul to be an English teacher. But since I had such a hard time making out what he was telling me, I had a hard time figuring out what exactly was going on. How is it that this silly Turk, who is wearing my sunglasses, using English that I can barely understand, is lecturing me and telling me that my knowledge of English grammar is poor?!
I began wondering to myself if I was wrong: Hmm… I didn’t do so well on the grammar part of my final exam in “Grammar for teachers of ESL” my last semester of college, and only passed due to my charming personality, so maybe I really don’t know what a gerund is! I mean, I think I’m right here, a verb that acts as a noun when you add -ing to the end of it. That’s what a gerund is, right? I have no idea what he’s talking about, but maybe that’s the point! And his confidence about the whole thing, considering how hard he is to understand, is quite impressive. Surely he has some point, or else he wouldn’t be so sure of himself.
Eventually the conversation went to other areas, and back to how I needed to eat lunch in his cafe. How he was going to convince me to eat there now, after having insulted my knowledge of gerunds, I didn’t know, but he made the effort.
When will you come to eat here?
I don’t know, maybe I’ll be back this evening for dinner.
I don’t believe you. That is an American lie!
Okay, fine, I’m not going to come back and eat here. I can’t afford it. I can’t afford anything in Sultanahmet!
My friend, not us. We have happy hour now. For you, happy hour lunch will be twenty lira.
Twenty lira! (I guffaw. Think how stuffed I could get on mussels with twenty lira!)
Okay, my friend, for you, fifteen lira.
Fifteen lira! Huh. I can’t spend fifteen lira on lunch!
My friend, what can you spend on lunch?
Five lira? Five lira. My friend, you cannot eat anything for five lira.
Sure you can! You go to the supermarket, buy some bread and meat, maybe a banana, and you have a five lira lunch.
You are crazy. Why you come to Istanbul? You can go to Miami and have beautiful girlfriend. You work in a bar and sit on the beach with beautiful girls. But you come to Istanbul and eat lunch for five liras. My friend, you are crazy.
Sure, I’m crazy. But I like to travel, and I love Istanbul. I would hate Miami.
My friend, you are crazy. But come anytime to our cafe and drink tea and coffee with us.
Okay, thank you. What’s your name?
Salih. And yours?
Salih, I am Steven.
Okay Steven. Steven Gerund, yes?
Clearly, Salih the gerund expert doesn’t know about budget meals. But the last bit of the conversation aside, I thought a lot about those stupid gerunds, and trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Not until about four hours later (after I talked to Omer and told him I’d go visit him more) as I was sitting on the pier at Uskudar watching the sunset with the fishermen, photographers and lovers who also fancy that spot for watching the sunset, did I put the pieces together about what he was thinking.
Of course! With his ridiculous sample sentence (I am doing), he’s thinking about the continuous tenses and adding -ing to the end of them! As in “I am doing well.” Or “I am doing poorly in Professor Vanden Bosch’s grammar class.” Or “I am doing your mother with great enthusiasm.” He’s thinking of the -ing form of the verb for an action that is happening now, and will continue until an indefinite point in the future. That stupid twit is getting gerunds confused with tenses.
I will plan on another venture to Sultanahmet to sit and drink tea with Salih, and I’m bringing my grammar book along. I will not suffer this offense! (And yes, I recognize that my photos of the sunset have little to do with gerunds, and you can find much better pictures of the same sunset on google, but it was quite a lovely sunset and wanted to share them anyway.)